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Born as Christopher Edwin “Lonny” Breaux in Long Beach, California, Ocean and his family, which includes a brother and one sister, moved to New Orleans, Louisiana when he was five and a half. The city had a profound effect on him as a child with its different ambiance and musical influences including Jazz, Cajun and Delta Blues. In his teens, he would spend time in a rented studio, paying for it by doing chores for neighbors. Ocean moved into a dormitory when he entered the University of New Orleans. Shortly after enrolling, Hurricane Katrina hit and he transferred to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
But he lived for that studio, and after Katrina severely damaged the space, looters carted away much of the equipment. Without a studio to anchor him, he decided to take the risk of leaving his family and his home town, to move to Los Angeles and continue doing what he loves most. During his stay in LA, he recorded demos at a friend’s studio and submitted them to local labels. He earned a songwriting deal as a ghostwriter for artists such as Brandy, Justin Bieber, and John Legend. He soon realized that composing for others could be lucrative and made his life comfortable, but he did not take the risk to relocate to Los Angeles, to be comfortable.
In 2010, he legally changed his name to Christopher Francis Ocean inspired by Frank Sinatra and the 1960 film “Ocean’s Eleven” He also became a member of alternative hip hop collective “Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All” (OFWGKTA). His friendship with Odd Future member Tyler, “The Creator”, reinvigorated his songwriting and he ceased ghostwriting, and took his songwriting public.
Frank Ocean’s desire to solo was still there, and an introduction to Christopher “Tricky” Stewart helped him get a solo contract with Def Jam Records. His first mixtape, “Nostalgia, Ultra” was released in February 2011 to good reviews. The mixtape focuses on interpersonal relationships, personal reflection and social commentary, and seasoned music critics loved it. Def Jam made plans to release it as an EP, presided by the single “Novacane”. He quickly released “Novacane” and ‘Swim Good” as singles, which both achieved chart success. The mixtape gained him plenty of attention and the interest of recording artists such as Kanye West, Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z, and he consequently appeared on West and Jay-Z’s “Watch the Throne” album. Ocean co-wrote and was featured on two tracks: “No Church in the Wild” and “Made in America.”
His debut studio album, “Channel Orange”, was released in July 2012. The album was promoted with three charting singles: “Thinkin Bout You”, “Pyramids”, and “Sweet Life”. In July of 2012, he also made his debut television performance with “Bad Religion” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The same day, Ocean released his album one week ahead of schedule for digital download on iTunes and composed an open letter, intended for the liner notes on Channel Orange, that would preemptively address “speculation about his same-sex attraction,” which he blogged about on Tumblr. He eloquently wrote “Four summers ago, I met somebody. I was nineteen years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him and his smile, I’d hear his conversation and his silence until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. I sat there and told my friend how I felt. I wept as the words left my mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take them back for myself. He patted my back. He said kind things. He did his best, but he wouldn’t admit the same. He had to go back inside soon. It was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs. He wouldn’t tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another three years. I felt like I’d only imagined reciprocity for years. Now imagine being thrown from a cliff. No, I wasn’t on a cliff, I was still in my car telling myself it was gonna be fine and to take deep breaths. I took the breaths and carried on. I kept up a peculiar friendship with him because I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him. I struggled to master myself and my emotions. I wasn’t always successful.” He would later write about coming out “(It) was about my own sanity and my ability to feel like I’m living a life where. I’m happy when I wake up in the morning, and not with this freaking’ boulder on my chest.”
Ocean became one of the first major African-American music artists to announce that he had fallen in love with someone of the same sex, notable because the industry has a reputation for homophobia. The album name, “Channel Orange” alludes to his first time falling in love, as it was summer and he perceived everything to be orange (a reference to the neurological phenomenon grapheme-color synesthesia).
Members of the hip hop industry generally responded positively to Frank Ocean’s announcement, Russell Simmons, a business magnate in the hip hop industry, wrote a congratulatory article in “Global Grind” saying “Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear.” Other artists who expressed their support included Beyoncé and Jay-Z., Tyler, The Creator also tweeted his support for Ocean, along with other members of OFWGKTA.
“Channel Orange” received universal acclaim from critics, earning six Grammy Award nominations and was credited by some writers for moving the R&B genre in a different, more challenging direction. Considered as his first commercial release on a traditional record label, “Channel Orange” featured unconventional songs that were noted for their storytelling and social commentary, and a dense musical fusion that drew on hip hop, soul, and R&B. Ocean promoted the album with his 2012 Summer Tour, which featured final appearances at the Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals. Also in 2012, the BBC announced that Frank Ocean finished second place in its “Sound of 2012” poll, and he performed an acoustic version of his “Channel Orange” single, “Thinkin Bout You”, at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards held at the Staples Center arena in Downtown Los Angeles.
In December of 2012, he was nominated for six Grammys: Album of the Year and Best Urban Contemporary Album for “Channel Orange”, Best New Artist, Record of the Year for “Thinkin Bout You”, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Short Form Video for “No Church In The Wild” with Jay-Z and Kanye West. “Channel Orange” was named the best album of 2012 by The A.V. Club, Billboard, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Consequence of Sound, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, musicOMH, The Sydney Morning Herald Now, Paste, PopMatters, Slant Magazine, Spin, The Washington Post, and Jon Pareles of The New York Times. The album was named “Album of the Year” by HMV’s Poll of Polls, an annual survey of UK critics and music writers from national print and online publications. Metacritic cited it as both the “top-ranked” and “best-reviewed major album” of 2012, as well as “one of the best-reviewed albums of the past decade”.
In February of 2013, Frank Ocean confirmed that he had started work on his second studio album, which would be another concept album with Tyler, the Creator, Pharrell Williams, and Danger Mouse, collaborating on the recording. He later stated that he was being influenced by The Beach Boys and The Beatles, hoping to work with Tame Impala and King Krule, and would record part of the album in Bora Bora. On May 28, 2013, Ocean announced the “You’re Not Dead… 2013 Tour”; a fourteen-date European and Canadian tour that began on June 16, 2013, in Munich. Frank Ocean appears on John Mayer’s album “Paradise Valley”, as a featured artist on a song called “Wildfire”.
Frank Ocean is one of the hottest, most promising artist in today’s hip-hop market. But there is a generational divide in the reception he receives from younger fans and critics, and the older, more established critics and DJs in the music industry. It may take a while for those older listeners to look beyond his same-gender desires, and see him for the brilliant and promising artist that he is.
In January 2013, Ocean got into an altercation with Chris Brown over a parking space, outside a recording studio in West Hollywood. Police officers in Los Angeles said that Chris Brown was under investigation, describing the incident as “battery” due to Brown punching the victim. Ocean said he would not press charges despite the fact that Brown had threatened to shoot him, and one of Brown’s entourage had called him a homophobic slur. Frank Ocean would exact some measure of revenge against Chris Brown in the song “Sunday”, from Earl Sweatshirt’s album “Doris”.
He now has a new management team, having let go his longtime management and publicist to go “in a different direction”. In March of 2014, the song “Hero” was made available for free download on SoundCloud. The song is a collaboration with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Diplo and is a part of Converse’s Three Artists One Song series. In April 2014, Ocean stated that his highly anticipated sophomore album was nearly finished.
While details of his forthcoming second album are still scarce, those who’ve heard it say it represents a big leap forward for Ocean, whose warm croon and vivid, idiosyncratic songwriting made him a darling among critics after the release of his debut mixtape “Nostalgia, Ultra” in 2011. The new music is said to involve “a number of layers.”
Frank Ocean describes himself as “somewhat reclusive” and relies on his art form to speak for him. He makes his home in Southern California with his Bernese Mountain Dog appropriately named, “Everest” and occasionally sends out highly anticipated tweets.
We join Frank Ocean on this day to celebrate his 27th Birthday, and thank him for his courageous honesty, his delightful artistry, and thank him for his many contributions to our community.
Copyright © MMXIV Stephen A. Maglott. I’m not fond of lawyers, but I have one anyway. She insist that I inform you that permission to share this biography or any portion thereof, on an online service or blog other than Facebook, must be granted in writing by yours truly (Stephen Maglott). Please feel free however, to share this post with others on Facebook.
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